MOZART Piano Concerto No 20 RACHMANINOV Piano Concerto No 2
Aldo Ciccolini can be numbered among the likes of Arthur Rubinstein, Mieczysław Horszowski, Vlado Perlemuter and the still-very-much-active Menahem Pressler (see page 68) in terms of sheer pianistic longevity. He died three years ago at the age of 89 and these live performances of Rachmaninov and Mozart were given when he was 83 and 86 respectively.
Ciccolini’s trademark finesse and clarity of fingerwork are very much in evidence. His Mozart D minor Concerto may sound a touch old-fashioned now that chamber-musical forces and heady speeds have become the norm, but there’s palpable affection to his approach. He may treat the outer movements quite steadily but his playing is never less than engaging. His passagework is lithe, trills are light and airy and his first-movement cadenza (the Beethoven one) is dispatched with confidence; what I did miss, however, was the movement’s sense of angst. The slow movement is a touch romanticised in its rubato but more concerning is the lack of fire in the dramatic minor-key outburst. The LPO (and the woodwind in particular) are on terrific form, and Yannick Nézet-Séguin is a dream partner, following Ciccolini’s lead with great sensitivity.
Ciccolini brings to Rachmaninov’s Second Concerto a striking lucidity of textures and a rare gracefulness; there’s lightness too in the scherzando passages in the first movement. Speeds in the outer movements are, as in the Mozart, on the steady side; but, more importantly, the surging climaxes lack an essential hot-bloodedness, leaving them sounding overly sedate. And while the melodic lines of the Adagio sostenuto are beautifully shaped, again the effect is relatively low-octane, emotionally speaking.